Shaila Catherine, has been practicing meditation since 1980, with more than eight years of accumulated silent retreat experience. She has taught since 1996 in the USA, and internationally. Shaila has dedicated several years to studying with masters in India, Nepal and Thailand, completed a one year intensive meditation retreat with the focus on concentration and jhana, and authored Focused and Fearless: A Meditator’s Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity. Shaila Catherine has practiced under the guidance of Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw since 2006; she authored Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana to help make this traditional approach to meditative training accessible to western practitioners. She is the founder of Insight Meditation South Bay, a Buddhist meditation center in Silicon Valley.
This talk explores insight practice (vipassana) as a profound approach to the unsurpassed happiness of liberation. Awakening (realization of nibbana) arises through the clear seeing of mind and matter as they actually are. Insight into the impermanent, unsatisfactory, and empty nature of things leads to a profound disenchantment and dispassion toward what was previously clung to. Mind and matter will never the a reliable basis for lasting happiness. Seeing this, the mind releases its habits of craving temporary pleasures, and clinging to things that change. The insight into impermanence is the spark for the most profound state of peace and joy, and creates a pleasant dwelling in this very life, even for the Arahant. The talk is followed by a guided meditation that encourages the observation of changing feelings, formations, mental states and emotions—seeing the impermanent nature of all experiences.
This is a talk on the theme of the joy of seclusion, followed immediately by a guided meditation on concentration using the breath as the focus. A concentrated mind is a happy mind. Joy, rapture, happiness, pleasure, sublime bliss, peacefulness, and equanimity are intrinsic to concentrated states. This brief talk introduces the four states of concentrated absorption known as the four jhanas and the immaterial states of infinite space, infinite consciousness, the base of nothingness or emptiness, and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. In Buddhism, not only is the rapture and pleasure of attaining jhana a form of happiness, but the deep ease and equanimity of the immaterial states are considered to be refined forms of happiness.
An uncluttered mind and heart brings great joy! Contentment is a state of serene ease, free from the fear of loss. Letting go and renunciation are taught as joyful practices, not penance. The Buddha taught his disciples to "abandon what is not yours, this will lead to your welfare and happiness for a long time". So we ask, what is "not ours"? And by implication, what is really mine? Joyful renunciation enables meditators to investigate the delusion of possessiveness until the mind if freed of all clinging to the impermanent experiences that really cannot be grasped anyway.
This talk introduces a series of talks on the theme of happiness, and addresses a tension found in Buddhism between teachings that emphasis suffering, and teachings that encourage profound joy. In the Buddha's teachings a distinction is made between sensual pleasures, and pleasures that develop through wholesome states of virtue, renunciation, concentration, or insight. Happiness can be supportive for practice, and this talk encourages us to enjoy meditation, to open to natural pleasures, and to cultivate delight in the dhamma, but we must understand if the support for our joy is skillful. By reflecting on our virtuous acts, generosity, and meritorious deeds, and by recollecting the noble qualities of the Buddha, we can delight the mind, stimulate self-respect and self-esteem, and inspire our practice with a wholesome source of joy.
This talk explores the concepts of self and not-self, and how we conceive of a self by clinging to sensory experiences. How do you construct the sense of being a someone, and the notion that you possess something? The process of selfing is addressed as a form of thought. We can intentionally investigate how the identification forms, what it depends upon, and liberate the mind from it's hold.
Restless thinking often fuels self concepts with thoughts about me, what I desire, or the projects I am planning. The formation of identity is seductive, and even jhana states and meditative attainments can become the basis for clinging if the meditator is not watchful. As we awaken to the empty nature of mind, we might ask: will nothing be enough? Do you experience in seeing, only seeing; in hearing, only the hearing; in sensing, only sensing; in cognizing, only the cognizing? Or does the habit of conceiving of a self in experience complicate perception and cause discontent with the basic truth of emptiness?
How are we using our minds? Where do our thought incline? The Buddha's teachings focus on the practical application of intention and the power of thought, rather than ritual, as the potent force behind action. Working with thought, we see how habits and tendencies develop and form patterns known as kamma (karma). We must be honest with ourselves and see any conceit, agitation, anger, greed, or restlessness that might be lurking as tendencies of mind. We can learn to use our thought skillfully, and guard the mind with diligent mindfulness. Wholesome and unwholesome thoughts are explored. There is nothing to fear from wholesome thoughts such as intentions toward renunciation, letting go, loving kindness, compassion, and generosity, and yet a concentrated mind will bring deeper rest. The path of liberation and awakening includes the development of morality and virtue, and also calmness, concentration, and wisdom.
Mindfulness brings a powerful quality of presence to our encounter with experience. By cultivating deep presence we meet life below the level of superficial concepts. We disentangle the mind from the story of self. More than charisma or social skills, deep presence implies a profound way of being which brings our momentary encounters into the immediate present.
Awakening is the profound aim of the spiritual life. Awakening is not described as a mystical goal, we wake up to the four noble truths. We look squarely at the world and recognize that we cannot fix it, and through this clarity we realize the end of suffering. Enlightenment does not imply a separation from life, instead, it brings us to face the reality of lived experiences without resistance. Profound realization brings a deep equanimity and peace into every encounter; it is defined as the ending of greed, hatred, and delusion. Awakening is known through the result—the end of defilements, craving, and ignorance.
This talk teases out the meaning of several difficult "D" words: disenchantment, dispassion, detachment. These terms do not imply an aversive response to experience, instead they play a vital role in the process of awakening.
The talk explores profound spiritual experiences. It considers the danger of arrogance and conceit arising, clinging to, and corrupting enlightenment experiences. It discusses how to express, describe, and speak about our spiritual awakenings without identification.
Meditation can reveal the dynamic process of emotional life. This talk explores relationships between mind and body, between thoughts and emotions, and between present moment experience and concepts. Emotions are not avoided in meditation, instead we engage in a balanced and wise investigation of emotions and see their changing, impermanent, and empty nature. Transformative insight into impermanence may come through understanding the functioning of mental states, without worry about difficult emotions such as anger, grief, or fear. We will learn to respond, act, and speak with wisdom as we learn to open to the full range of emotional life.